This Saturday, the race of the white roads bring the Classics a little further south to the warmer climes of Italy. It’s the classic that hasn’t quite earned the capital ‘C’ yet, Strade Bianche is Saturday, March 4. In the beautiful city of Siena, raced over the rolling gravel roads of Tuscany, this legendary has been a fixture of professional cycling since…2007. Somehow, it feels like a much older race, but its decade has seen some unforgettable finishes and it’s a proven show of form.
The 2017 route includes over 50km of the famous ‘white roads’ of Tuscany, from which the race takes its name. Most of those roads are in great shape, but flat tires, treacherous descents, and the curving roads make it a special challenge, even for the cobble specialists the race typically draws. With Tirreno-Adriatico the next race in Italy, it’s not unusual to get a sprinkling of stage racers on the line, with the on-form Alejandro Valverde rumored to be taking the start.
Fabian Cancellara has always raced as the massive favorite here, but after riding off into the sunset, it’s a more wide-open event. There’s been a sense of a power vacuum, to be honest, with Fabs off the circuit. With Tom Boonen not his dominant old self (it hurt to put ‘old’ there, but it’s telling) and Spartacus gone, the old dynamic has opened up a much more wide-open and aggressive Classics campaign. At Omloop and K-B-K, the big names were throwing punches from the start, with riders like Ian Stannard (Team Sky) and Daniel Oss (BMC) opening up hostilities for the big names from as far out as 90km. Expect more of the same at Strade Bianche, where it will be a race of attrition and luck.
It’s almost like the first Tour without the old Armstrong/Ullrich dynamic, but Peter Sagan has quickly filled the void. Second place at Omloop and first Sunday into Kuurne, he’s the rider to beat. The other favorites are Greg van Avermaet, who won at Omloop for the second year in a row, and Sep Vanmarcke.
But the Italian race brings in a number of riders from the recently concluded Abu Dhabi Tour, including a former winner in Siena, Michal Kwiatkowski. Team Sky have drawn criticism for pushing Kwiato away from the one-day cobbles Classics in recent weeks. He won E3 Harelbreke for the squad last year and looked to be their biggest chance at Flanders, but he’ll skip all of those races to focus on the Ardennes. He’s a rider that performs well over all sorts of terrain, but if they come up empty-handed with Luke Rowe and Ian Stannard, they’ll be found blushing.
You can watch the finale of 2016’s edition here.